Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

Claude Duval (1924)

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Production Company: Gaumont CompanyDirector: George A Cooper.  Script: Mary Bennett (story), Louis Stevenson (writer)

Release date: April 1924

Genre: Adventure | Crime | Drama

Cast: Nigel Barrie (Claude Duval); Charles Ashton (Tom Crisp); Fay Compton (Frances, Duchess of Brentleigh); Dorinea Shirley (Moll Crisp); Betty Faire (Lady Anne); Stella St. Audrie (Mrs. Crisp); Hugh Miller (Lionel, Lord Malyn); James Lindsay (The Duke of Brentleigh); A.B. Imeson (Lord Chesterton); James Knight (Captain Craddock); Tom Coventry (Innkeeper Crisp);

Plot Synopsis from BFI’s National Film Archive Catalogue:

In the days of merry England the Duke of Brentleigh, returning from a mission abroad, brought with him a loyal young Frenchman named Claude Duval (Nigel Barrie). The Duke was very proud of his beautiful wife, Frances (Fay Compton), whom he thought good and true, but who in reality was a heartless coquette. Lord Lionel (Hugh Miller) took advantage of one of her “affairs” to try and extort money from her, but she countered by persuading young Duval to get the compromising letters she had written, from the blackmailer. The latter, however, tried to show the Duke that Frances was carrying on an affair with Duval, but the latter saved the situation by confessing that he had entered the Duchess’s bedroom to rob. A few moments later, a fatal shot was fired at the Duke and, accused by Lord Lionel, Duval escaped to the open road, was outlawed, and turned highwayman. The death of the Duke served to effect a great change in the character of Frances, who set out to live a life worthy of the faith her husband had in her. Lionel succeeded to the title, but finding only mortgage and debt, turned his thoughts toward marrying Frances’ companion and niece, Lady Anne, and abducted her. Unfortunately for him, Duval was on the road, and his “stand and deliver ” resulted in the famous episode of the dance on the heath and rescue of Lady Anne, whom he sent to his hut in the woods. A treacherous peasant, however, guided Lionel and a company of soldiers to Duval’s hiding place, and a fierce fight between hero and villain developed into the surprising denouement which brings the film to its climax.

The actor Nigel Barrie plays Claude Duval, the soldier who becomes an outlaw to combat the evil minions of the malevolent King.  Barrie changed his name from the rather cumbersome Roynon Cholmondeley Nigel-Jones. He became established as a dancer and stage actor in the 1910’s, both in England and the USA.  After a successful start in silent films (Beatrice Fairfax (1916),and playing Marguerite Clark’s love interest in Bab’s Diary (1917) and Bab’s Burglar (1917) , Barrie settled into a long film career as a supporting player, often cast as villains. Returning to England at the advent of sound, Barrie continued in films until at least 1938.

Fay Compton, who plays the Duchess Grace of Brentleigh, was an experienced silent film actress by 1924.  She made her film debut in 1914 in “She Stoops to Conquer” followed by the silent movies “One Summer’s Day” (1917) and “The Labour Leader” (1917).  She had her busiest time in films in the 1920’s. Because of her theatrical experience she continued her career into the sound era from the 1930’s right up to 1970, when she appeared as Grandma in her last film, The Virgin and the Gypsy, a film adaptation of D.H.Lawrence’s novel by Alan Plater.

Written by anneramsden

March 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

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